Friday, November 30, 2012

Print nostalgia with Linotype:The Film

In one of my former lives I worked in a commercial print shop. I did paste-up with hot wax and an X-acto knife, and I set type on a machine something like this one:

Thanks, Marcin Wichary and Wikipedia.

This might be a newer model than the one I used, because it appears to have a slot for 8" floppy disks, and ours used cartridges of some sort. But you get the idea. A single line of type appeared on the screen... not in the font one was using... just a pixel-y little line that disappeared into the techno-ether once a certain number of characters were typed. For you youngsters out there, each letter was flashed onto photosensitive film, then processed chemically to paper. Until the type galleys came out of processing, one didn't know if the entire paragraph had been accidentally typed in boldface. Our machine didn't have a "Save" feature... so mistakes had to be typed and processed all over again.

I had a love-hate relationship with that machine. Mostly hate. And I was delighted when "desktop publishing" appeared, allowing me to see entire pages of type at once and to make corrections quickly and easily.

But as a printmaker, and a relief printmaker at that, I often feel a nostalgia for the "good old days" of wood or metal type. I have a few pieces that I've found here and there– and one of these days when I get Presszilla into a workable space of her own I hope to invest in some complete alphabets– but I've never personally set type by hand. (Well, there WAS that rubber stamp set I had as a child... The one with tweezers and tiny individual letters you set into a frame.) As a type geek I'm a dilettante, but I think my days as pilot of the beast above give me enough street cred to be delighted by Linotype: The Film. My own copy arrived here mere days after the DVD was released...

I hope you have a few minutes to take a look at the trailer, and if you have an opportunity to see the entire film, I encourage you to do so. It's great fun... and if you don't believe me, just ask Etaoin Shrdlu. (More clips are available on the film's website.)

"Linotype: The Film" Official Trailer from Linotype: The Film on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Finishing the magpie linocut

Start-and-stop-and-start-again is never my favorite way to work on a piece, but sometimes that's just what happens. This 5-by-7-inch linocut was started more than a month ago and has only now reached its final stages.

The delays this time were not due to lack of materials or technical difficulties but to contract projects and holidays– both of which are now happily behind us.

So where were we?

We were here, at the Belly Shadow Redux.

The image was definitely showing signs of heading where I wanted it, with the magpie hiding in the foreground shadow. I decided the middle distance leaves were still too flat, so the ninth pass was a transparent blue-gray.

Okay, good. That put a little life in the middle ground and deepened the foreground. It also started to swing the magpie into the blue-black range instead of green like everything else.

Now a few brown "lowlights" (as opposed to highlights) in the branch and twigs. (Perpetual glare from the left on wet prints. Sorry.) A brief moment of uncertainty followed, when I wondered if perhaps the brown weren't too much. But there was still one final pass to go.

Another transparent blue-black brought the magpie forward, toned down some of the brown bits, and put one more layer of value in the bottom foreground. By golly, I think it's finished.

Sometime in the last week or so a title popped into my head, but it's gone right out again. Until I find it again... ssshhhh! Don't look now, but there's a magpie. Right there. No, there. Hiding in that shrub.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

We interrupt this linocut

Yeah. Illustrations due. Can you tell by the state of my work space? Those are watercolors and brushes (shudder) on my table, and reference photos everywhere. The print bench lies in sad, lonely darkness. I should be done with this project at the end of the day and then we can get back to printmaking, okay?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Back in the shadows


Success! I think.

Here we have the second  linoleum block all carved and hanging out with the original reduction block. Since the belly shadow (or BS, as I like to call it) is a transparent blueish gray I figured it would be just fine to let the color interact with the entire bird body. I inked most of the right-hand side of the second block and printed away....

It took a while to settle on the "correct" value for this pesky magpie belly, but I think I've got it. We'll know for sure after the next pass. There's some brown to go into the branches, a few dark values to go into the foreground leaves and one more darker pass to the bird before it's done.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Change of approach

Okay. So my efforts to shadow a magpie belly via stencil didn't work out last week. (How many people get to A) write a sentence like that and B) expect that a significant number of people who read aforementioned sentence will know what it means?)

The whole fiasco came about because I was being a cheapskate. Worse yet, I was a cheapskate in a hurry. I didn't want to "mess up" a second block on this little piece, nor did I want to take the time to carve it. Result? I am several days further behind, I've trashed a few prints, and I will end up carving a second block anyway.

The good news is that it gives me a chance to show one way to transfer an image to a second block. I'm sure there are other, better ways and I'm looking forward to hearing what other printmakers do, but here's how I tackle it:

It starts out like any other printing day: inked linocut block in the jig.

But I print onto something non-absorbent... in this case tracing paper. I want the ink to stay on top of the paper.

I slide a blank block of identical size into the jig. (This one has a stain on it from the previous belly-printing attempt.)

I place the printed tracing paper face down onto the blank block in the jig and rub with the baren again.

Et voila! I now have a second block which reflects all the carving of the first and is in register.

Since I'm mostly concerned with the bird on the second block I didn't take too much time with the transfer of the leafy areas of the design. I could have done so with a little more effort, but we've already determined that I'm stuck in a laziness feedback loop on this piece.

The downside to this transfer technique is that I have to wait for the ink to dry on the second block before I can get carving, but I did add a drop of cobalt drier so that shouldn't take long.* I don't like adding drier as a general rule, mostly because it's nasty stuff and I don't like the smell, but in this case it wasn't going to stay around long on either paper or block or tools to be too offensive.

So while I'm waiting for ink to dry I'm pushing around sketches and looking at photo reference and trying to come up with a new image to work on. I'd like to get after something larger now, although once again I've scheduled myself for a demo and need to have something to work on in a couple of weeks. At the rate things are going, it might be this piece. But then again....

(*It was, in fact, dry enough to work on in about an hour.)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Impatience Wrought

Most of the time I love that reduction printing is a labor-intensive, time-consuming process. I enjoy putting the image on the block. Carving. Preparing paper. Mixing ink. Mixing it again. Inking the block, pulling the print. It's fun to watch the image slowly resolve... and nail-biting when you're just not sure you got the colors or the values right. Satisfying when you get to the end and it all works out okay.

Then again, there comes a point in some pieces when I start grumbling. "If I were a painter, I'd be done with this by now. In fact, I'd probably be done with THREE paintings by now."

Guess where we are with the magpie linocut.

There are a couple of problems. The first is that the shadow on the underside of the magpie's belly is too light. I'm trying to suggest that the viewer has discovered the bird in the foreground shade, escaping from the summer heat and bright light of the background. The magpie's belly is white, but in shadow it appears more gray, and even reflects some of the green of the leaves. There are also a few bright white spots where the sunlight gets through.

Clearly it needs to be darkened, but the block material that printed this original too-light gray was carved away long ago.

So here are the choices:

1) Forget the darker belly/shadow idea and just let the bird come forward. (Easiest, therefore least likely solution.)

2) Pochoir ("pounce") the color directly onto the print. (Too large a space to cover delicately. At least for my skill level with the technique.)

3) Carve a second block. (Stay tuned, we might yet come back to this because I tried option 4.)

4) Cut a stencil, use it to ink an UNCARVED second block, and print from the second block.

Option #4 it is.

I cut a piece of mylar and traced onto it an outline of the shape I would like to have print gray. I used a print-in-progress and the already-carved block to determine this shape.

Here you see the cut stencil placed over the already carved block to check that it lines up.

And here it is on the UNcarved block, ready for inking.

So far, so good. I used a small brayer to ink the block, but the stencil has some very thin shapes that the brayer couldn't reach, so I used a stiff paintbrush to make sure ink got into all the corners.

Everything was going fine and I was already composing my triumphant blog post in my head when I realized that my prints were still kind of tacky from the last ink layers. Perversely confident in my ability to burnish just the inked belly with olympic-level motor coordination skills, AND impatient to get this image finished, I plowed ahead anyway.

And promptly trashed three prints. The too-tacky ink on the print adhered to the dry areas of the second block as I rubbed, and when I pulled the prints back they left chunks of paper behind.


I knew this could happen, but sometimes I just don't want to take my own good advice. Will I know better next time? Of course. Will I make the same mistake again? Oh, probably. I said I love printmaking. I never said one word about actually learning anything. ;-)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Yay! Back to work!

Naturally the tint base showed up when I was out of town for a couple of days, but today I was able to get back to work on the little magpie linocut.

I'm at that "darn, I should have done that section differently" stage of this piece. I'm liking most things about it, but the shadow on the magpie's belly, which looked so dark 4 stages ago, barely shows up now that the dark values around it are in place. (Sigh) This is the aspect of reduction printing that can be a bit frustrating– There's no going back to "fix" it, unless I want to carve another block or do some other sort of magic. We'll see what happens in the next pass...

From here it's just some dark branches and then the dark of the bird. And resolving that shadow, maybe. But everything is very, very wet and drying slowly, so I expect it will be at least Wednesday before anything more can be done.
A comment about comments:

If you're a regular reader of blogs and like to join the conversation via comments, you know that some time in the last year Blogger changed their "prove you're not a robot" system to something wholly frustrating.

So... in the interest of keeping readers safe from the annoying sales pitches and spammers who target blogs, I'm going to try a new approval combination. No more "Captcha."  I'll screen every comment myself so yours might not get posted right away, especially if I'm on the road, but hopefully this will keep the swearing-at-the-screen to a minimum.

This has been a public service announcement. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog reading.

A new comment about comments, one day later:

Okay. Well. I've already had to dismiss 7 or 8 spam comments TODAY by not using the Captcha feature, so I'm afraid we're going back to it. If you're having trouble, absolutely feel free to email me. I might not always be able to answer the same day, but I will get back to you!

Friday, November 2, 2012

A little more magpie

I've managed to eek out one more color pass using the scraps of previous inks, this one a straight green roll. Now all there is to do is drum my fingers on the bench, waiting for the new cans of base to arrive.

Well, no, that's not entirely true. I'm off in a few minutes to deliver two linocuts and one woodcut/linocut hybrid(!) to the juried "Colors of Change" show at Coutura Design Inspirations in Colorado Springs. I don't have the slightest idea what to expect from this venue or exhibition, but I'm hoping that they'll integrate the work into the design showrooms. It's always fun to see pieces in an "actual" environment (even if it's staged), because that's really how we live with art: Over the sofa or next to the bookcase.

The exhibition opens tomorrow evening, 5-8 pm.

Linocut in Progress: The Third Act

Time to wrap up this linocut ! And we are wrapping at warp speed (see what I did there?)... because there are deadlines. Exhibition deadline...